Orange march for No vote is given the go-ahead

An Orange Order parade in Belfast
An Orange Order parade in Belfast
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AN Orange Order march planned for the Capital just days before the independence referendum has been given the go-ahead.

The march by up to 15,000 people is scheduled for Saturday, September 13 – the weekend before voters decide the country’s future.

Members of the council’s licensing sub-committee yesterday voted in favour of allowing the event to take place, despite councillors voicing concerns.

But after receiving legal advice, they were left with no choice but to grant permission for the march.

The News revealed last week that police had lodged no objection despite increased tension expected so close to the big vote, with one senior councillor airing “really serious concerns” about public order implications, as well as worries over the impact on Edinburgh’s global reputation in the event of trouble.

Earlier this month, a 12-year-old girl was left covered in blood at an Orange walk in Glasgow after being hit with a flying bottle when violence broke out as she watched the parade.

September’s march – billed as a referendum rally against independence – will come hot on the heels of the Commonwealth Games and the Festival, and days before the start of golf’s Ryder Cup in Gleneagles.

Councillor Gavin Barrie, licensing leader, said: “All of the correspondence I have had [about the marches] was about the negative impact they have.

“But I do recognise they’re registered as a campaign group and that gives them some protection from prohibition – although they’re not completely protected.

“The law does not allow us to ban a march. It’s clear we’d rather this didn’t go ahead – our hands are tied. We have clear legal advice as to what we can and can’t do. [Banning it] wouldn’t have held up in the Sheriff Court.

“We recognise that when an organisation is registered as a campaigner in the referendum, the article on the convention of human rights gives you some protection.”

Arguing in favour of the march at yesterday’s meeting, James G MacLean, of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, denied the event would create a major safety risk and said protection of the right to free and peaceful demonstration was paramount.

He said: “I’m simply saying that we need to be very careful about encouraging people to take offence because of their particular political agenda.

“The right to demonstrate is the bedrock of any democracy. The right to express your opinion is the bedrock of any democracy. The right to express your cultural opinion is the bedrock of any democracy.

“In a democracy you should observe the maxim, ‘I may disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it’.”

However, Councillor Vicki Redpath said she was not convinced and aired fears over the effect of the march at a time when tempers are likely to be “frayed”.

Police chiefs reiterated their confidence that they would be able to maintain order.

Superintendent Phil O’Kane told the committee: “I am confident that we will apply a high level of police resource to this.”